Nonprofit helped more than 4,000 women

Women learn reading skills at the Learning and Loving Center.  * Morgan Hill Life file photo

By Marty Cheek

For the past 27 years more than 4,000 immigrant women have been touched and educated by the Learning and Loving Center. Many have found employment or have gone on to higher education. With the coronavirus, the center is forced to permanently close its doors at the end of October.

The center was started by the Sisters of the Presentation nearly three decades ago to assist South Valley immigrant women receive the resources they need to learn English and other skills. More than 20 of its students have gone on to study at Gavilan College. Other women have reached their goal of learning.

The 2018 Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce’s Nonprofit of the Year has operated with a dependence on grants, fundraising and individual donations. Those funds have dwindled with COVID-19, which also prevented students and staff from meeting at the center located a few blocks south of downtown Morgan Hill.

Education is really the key to empowerment and growth, said the center’s director, Christa Hanson. She will never forget a woman from Honduras who came to learn. Her two younger boys were in the center’s preschool while her two older son still lived in the Latin American country. With the center’s assistance, they were eventually all reunited.

“I was so happy to be of help to her and her family with these arrangements,” Hanson said. “Then when May came, there were a multitude of graduations in her family. Her youngest graduated from preschool, the next son graduated from kindergarten, another of her sons graduated from middle school, her oldest son graduated from high school. And she graduated with her GED high school equivalency certificate.”

Eight women students went on to get further education and were later hired as staff members at the center, Hanson said. She’s grateful to all the people who have made a difference in the lives of these women and their families: the staff, the volunteers, the boards, the donors, the businesses and organizations, the foundations.

When the center was founded, it was a difficult time to be an immigrant in America. The staff over the years ensured all the women and their families know they are worthy and wonderful members of our community, Hanson said.

“I was often amazed at what difficulties and challenges the women had to endure, yet they still wanted to learn,” she said. “They each brought such gifts. They bonded with one another and supported each other. They were grateful for being able to learn.”

As the president of the center’s board, retired educator Jim Yinger witnessed the positive changes in the lives of migrant and immigrant students and was grateful to have helped make their lives better. The best thing about his involvement was hearing the stories of individual women and their families.

“I will cherish the many times I did drop by to see the serious intent of the women learning in the small classrooms, the dedicated teachers who came regularly with joy and the staff who gave above and beyond, creating a welcoming space for all,” he said.

It’s unlikely the Learning and Loving Center will return to the way it was prior to the pandemic, Yinger said. To duplicate the unique community will take a new sponsoring organization, a rebuilding of the staff and volunteers, more space and a lot more money.

The good news is through the relationships established with local educational and public service agencies the spirit and the mission of the LLEC will live on, he said.

“We will stay in touch with all these people as we take advantage of existing programs and look forward to creating new ones,” he said.

Robert Airoldi